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Danger Right Under Parents' Noses

Many teenagers use inhalants to get high at home. Inhalants are common household products such as glue, paint, cleaners or hair spray.

Trouble is, if you sniff them, they could not only get you high — they could kill you.

Betty Wong, executive editor of Family Circle magazine, had the warning signs parents need to know on The Early Show Friday.

"We were shocked at Family Circle to find out that younger and younger kids are getting into inhalants," she told co-anchor Harry Smith. "It's actually really popular among seventh and eighth graders. We're talking about 12- and 13-year-olds. One out of four adolescents has tried inhalants by the time they're in eighth grade.

"It's a rare side effect, but it can be fatal. It can cause what's called 'sudden sniffing death syndrome,' where it causes the heart to beat very erratically and then suddenly stop. It's just tragic when you hear about cases like that."

Short of that, Wong noted, "The research shows that kids who get into inhalants do use them as a steppingstone to other drugs, such as marijuana and other damaging drugs."

Wong observed that, "There are literally thousands of different products that kids can get high on, ranging from nail polish remover to paint thinner, paints, spray paints, aerosol, air fresheners, deodorants, lighter fluid.

"And, since these are things that are all over the house, in our kitchen cabinets, in the basement, garage, next to the computer, those dust cleaners (to clean keyboards) …"

Wong said kids do it "because it causes this 30- to 60-second kind of euphoria. When they inhale these chemicals, it enters the bloodstream very quickly and it disrupts certain neuron signals in the brain and gives them a quick, quick high. They tend to get sort of that fuzzy, you know, drunk feeling that — same kind of funny and fun for them, but they are under this naive conception that, because these products are out there and everywhere, they are somehow safer than illicit drugs."

There are red flags that could tip parents off to possible inhalants abuse, Wong stressed, including:

  • Finding products in odd places, such as nail polish remover in their teen's room or butane lighters in the house when no one smokes
  • Empty containers stashed in out-of-the way places such as closets or under the bed
  • Empty cans they could have sworn were full the last time they saw them

    Also, look for signs in a child's behavior, such as odd-smelling breath, a dazed look, glassy eyes, slurred speech, or restlessness, anxiety, or a tendency to fly off the handle for no reason.

    If parents think there's cause for concern, they should "absolutely" talk to their child about the situation, Wong said, "just as you would talk about the dangers of drug or alcohol or having sex too early. You need to talk about inhalants, and be honest about it."

    For much more on inhalants, visit the Web site of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition.